Portrait of a Roundabout

Swan, Billy Mill and Cowgate — when strung together, these names could perhaps be mistaken for the title of an obscure new advertising agency.

Instead, if you ask a Geordie to name three roundabouts, I expect those are the names that would spring to mind first.

Hen, an old pal of mine, recently asked me if I’d make a photograph of Cowgate Roundabout, which lies at the northern end of Newcastle’s central motorway.

Even though it’s certainly a local institution, this could be perceived as a slightly odd request. There is, however, a simple reason behind it…

You see, when Hen was only fifteen years old, his father — Jimmy Henderson — passed away.

Jimmy used to work for Newcastle City Council and one of the only lasting relics of that time is his contribution to the construction of Cowgate Roundabout.

Hen even retrieved this treasured print of the construction crew, taken in the late 1960s just before work began:

The Cowgate Roundabout Construction Crew
The Cowgate Roundabout Construction Crew
Jimmy Henderson, one of the Newcastle City Council team who constructed the Cowgate Roundabout
Jimmy Henderson, smiling away in the middle of this crop…

It recently transpired that a £3m improvement plan has been given the green light — a plan that includes the removal of Cowgate Roundabout as we know it today.

With works due to start this summer and months of disruption ahead, it was time to get moving with our photograph of the site.

So, we mobilised Neena very early on Sunday morning. Our aim was simply to record the roundabout — usually extremely busy — in a peaceful state without any traffic.

In memory of Jimmy Henderson, our efforts resulted in this finished plate :

Cowgate Roundabout, Newcastle upon Tyne, shortly before its demolition.
Cowgate Roundabout — in memory of Jimmy Henderson. (Half Plate Ambrotype)

Behind the Scenes…

We made a lovely morning of it, not only loading Neena with the necessary photographic paraphernalia but also making sure we had a stash of fine coffee and treats.

Here are three of the images I shared on my Instagram feed at the time…

Jack Lowe on Instagram
Hen enjoying a coffee and pastry between plates. See the family resemblance with Jimmy, above?
Jack Lowe on Instagram
Standing in the doorway of my ambulance — a sentence I never thought I’d write.
Jack Lowe on Instagram
The vantage point.

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  1. I love the hylozoic thought that a roundabout can be in “a peaceful state without any traffic”. The sentient roundabout: “I’m not going to even think about Monday, I’m just going to enjoy my Sunday morning lie in”. Until two jokers arrive in an ambulance, that is. We change what we observe by the simple act of observation. Awesome that Neena has been on a deployment!

  2. Thank you for giving us a new perspective on the roundabout, when we bid for the money and were given it none of us gave much thought to the personal attachments that people may have to Cowgate. To be honest when drawing up plans for such things you don’t see it as either a place that has great personal memories or a place in peoples heart that reminds them of loved ones.

    You may wish to photograph Bluehouse, Haddricks and Billy Mill because they are all going in the next few years too.

    A great picture, thanks.